Is God Finished with the Jewish People? (Part 2)
God’s Unilateral Covenant with Abraham
Genesis 15 records the covenant-cutting ceremony between God and Abraham. Such a ceremony was very common in the ancient world at that time. The two covenanting parties would gather the animals as described in Genesis 15, slice them in two, and then the two parties would walk between the animals. This act signified the solemnity of the agreement and the commitment of each party to one another and to the pact.
What is most interesting about this covenant-cutting ceremony in Genesis 15 is that the Lord alone passed between the animals. Abraham did not. The Lord thereby indicated that this was God’s covenant, and that He would assume the responsibility for its administration. The Lord was the promising party, and His oath was unilateral and unconditional. Note that in Genesis 15 there are no requirements of Abraham, other than that he believe, which of course he did.
In Genesis 17:7-11, God established circumcision as the sign of the covenant:
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant that you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you….” [Emphasis added]
This is a covenant that Abraham kept, and a covenant that the Jewish people have kept from that day to this.
Affirmation of the Covenant to Isaac and Jacob
In Genesis 26:3-5, the Lord affirmed to Isaac the promise and the covenant that He had unilaterally made with Abraham:
For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me, and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws. [Emphasis added]
The Lord once again affirmed the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob in Genesis 35:12: “The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”
What land is at issue in the Abrahamic Covenant?
What land exactly was God talking about? Genesis 15:18 offers a clear answer to this question:
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land from the river of Egypt [the Nile] to the great river the Euphrates.” In Joshua 1:4 the Lord said, “Your territory will extend from the desert [again, in Egypt] to Lebanon [in the north], from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Great Sea on the west [the Mediterranean Sea].”
What I submit to you is that God unilaterally and unconditionally made a covenant with Abraham. As a part of this covenant, He gave Abraham a gift. The gift was God’s covenant land, the land that He promised as the land of Israel. The Lord reaffirmed the promise both to Isaac and to Jacob, granting Abraham and his descendants the title to the land.
At Mt. Sinai, Moses reminded the Lord of the unilateral covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After the Israelites had sinned against God by worshipping the golden calf, the Lord threatened to destroy the Israelites and make Moses into a great nation.
Moses, the great intercessor that he was, pleaded with the Lord to turn from his fierce anger and forgive Israel’s sin: “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them and it will be their inheritance forever.’” (Exodus 33:13)